Nya:Weh Sgeno

Nya:weh Sgeno.

In the Seneca language, that is how you greet people.

I would say that in the last three years, I’ve become much more interested in my own culture. I am what one might call a “City Indian.” I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY, an hour from the closest Seneca-based territory, or reservation. My mother was raised on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation but moved to Buffalo before turning 17. So even though most of my family still lives on both the Cattaraugus and Allegany Indian Reservations, most of my youth was strongly influenced by Buffalo, a not-so-native-centric city.

Just this year, I feel like I’m becoming much more familiar with the history, customs, and cultural roots of all things Seneca. In my current position, I am using my learned skills in public relations and marketing to further the mission of Seneca Holdings. And with that task, I am reaffirming what I knew and learning a lot more that I didn’t.

Just this last weekend, I attended the Pow Wow in Salamanca, Seneca Nation (NY). [Fun fact: Salamanca is the only United States city located on Indian territory.] I believe I’ve gone to this pow wow almost every year since before I can remember. It’s something I remember looking forward to every year with my parents and my sisters. Even though Salamanca is only an hour and a half drive from Buffalo, it was considered a whole-day event to go down there. Not only did my parents want to be early, to catch up with family, for Grand Entry, but they wanted to watch dance competitions, look around at the vendors, and continue to soak up as much family time as possible.

I’m 22 years old this year, and that ‘anxiously-awaiting-the-pow-wow’ feeling is still as strong as ever.

And now that I’m with the person I know I want to have a family with, I look forward to bringing him to teach him more about current traditions, so we can both pass them down to our children.

“Tiny tot” dancers, or as the emcee called them “the Grandchildren.” [Photo by Mark James]

I love our culture, and as I’m learning more and more, I’m motivated to integrate them into my lifestyle and to possibly teach others about them. One of the starkest differences I saw while at the Pow Wow is the incredible respect for the elderly, or Elders as we call them.

The Elders hold all of the traditions, knowledge, and wisdom of our nation. We respect them and care for them so well. Their age category in the dancing competitions is known as the “Golden Age” category. They have a special tent that is supplied with free water and protection from the summer sun. And I’ll say, they have the best view of the field during Grand Entry and all the dances. I see in American culture, that the elderly aren’t as well taken care of, in fact, aging is something fear. I feel like I am like my mother, awaiting the next step with pride.

Mark has said that noticed the respect for the elders. At his family’s event, the children were first to line up for something to eat while everyone else waited. At mine, he noticed instantly that all the elders ate first. It’s little differences like this that makes our relationship interesting.

I also saw the distinct responsibility that is assumed when it comes to the children, or “Grandchildren.” They are the next generation and we have a responsibility to ensure that they carry on the traditions and practice them with respect and pride. Lessons are applied to everything. For instance, during one of the kid’s dance competitions, a dancer’s feather from his headdress fell to the floor. The emcee announced to the dancer to not pick it up. An elder came out to the floor and offered his hand in picking it up. This was meant to put in the kid’s head that we are a community and we help each other through everything.

I cannot wait (but kind of can) to bring my own children to this event and to teach them all about our culture.

For now, I will share pictures with friends who aren’t so familiar with what a pow wow is.

For more photos from this event, you can check out Mark’s gallery of images. But here are a couple of my favorite to start you off:

Fancy Shawl

“Golden Age” dancers. [Elders]

Adult helping a Grandchild with his Gastow’ (what is known as a headdress)

The Smoke Dance, unique to this area, requires fancy footwork and strictly adheres to the beat of the drums.

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